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Catholic-Reformed dialogue completes documents on baptism, Eucharist/Lord’s Supper

November 4, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C.

The three-day seventh round of the Catholic-Reformed Dialogue concluded its final plenary in Henryville, Ind., Oct. 8. The dialogue produced two documents to present to the churches, one on baptism and the other on the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper.

The dialogue is jointly sponsored by the Christian Reformed Church in North America, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), the Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Christ, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Entitled, “These Living Waters,” the dialogue’s report on baptism was the result of five years of study and deliberations by the dialogue team from 2003 to 2007. The document proposes to the churches a Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism.

Such a common agreement was first proposed by Cardinal Walter Kasper of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity in 2002. He exhorted local episcopal conferences such as the USCCB to find ways to develop such agreements with historic Protestant communities.

The dialogue couches the Common Agreement in a study that embarks on a comprehensive historical overview of sacraments and sacramentality from Roman Catholic and Reformed viewpoints.

It then explores the baptismal rites of the two traditions, making note of the historical developments in the rites of both traditions through the centuries.

Next, the report looks at Roman Catholic, Reformed, and common perspectives on the theology of Baptism.

Finally, it gives some pastoral recommendations which would give tangible expression of mutual recognition of Baptism.

The Common Agreement on Baptism has been ratified by the PC(USA). It will come before the Catholic bishops for approval at the upcoming plenary of the USCCB to be held in Baltimore, Nov. 15-18.

The other Reformed churches will consider the agreement at their upcoming general assemblies or synods.

In formulating the document on the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper — “This Bread of Life” — dialogue members took a novel approach which proved very effective. Each tradition presented its understanding of the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper in relation to five themes: Epiclesis — Action of the Holy Spirit; Anamnesis — Remembering; the Presence of Christ; Offering and Sacrifice; and Discipleship.

The dialogue report then goes on to note significant convergences, divergences and areas of mutual appreciation before making pastoral recommendations. The members of the dialogue discovered that there are many more convergences than divergences, even on the issue of the nature of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

“A surprise was that the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper paper was not as difficult as I thought it would be,” said Catholic dialogue member Father Dennis Tamburello of Siena College. “We may not be on the same page, but we are a lot closer to the same page than we thought.”

Dialogue member Father Thomas Weinandy of the USCCB Secretariat for Doctrine concurred. “The Eucharist paper was easier because we learned what the nature of a dialogue is. It is not just comparative theology. We accepted that the other believed what they believed in good faith. As a result we never felt the need to ask, ‘Why do you believe what you believe?’ Rather we clarified our doctrine with each other so that we could find convergences, then we were able to explore the differences to see if they were church dividing.”

The two documents will now be presented to the appropriate bodies within each denomination to be received according to their respective polity. After that, they will be made generally available for study and dialogue.

“It is our hope that once these documents are received by our respective churches, they will have the widest possible distribution in congregations and parishes so that the issues we have raised and the very significant convergences that we have discovered may be studied by Catholic and Reformed Christians in a variety of local settings,” said the Rev. Robina Winbush, ecumenical officer for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).  

“Our dialogue with the USCCB is extremely important to us Reformed Christians,” said Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary and Reformed co-chair, as topics for the next round were discussed. “It is one of the few instances where members of the four churches of Reformed tradition in the U.S. have the opportunity to speak with one another. This is a great opportunity for us to dialogue with other Reformed Christians as well as with the Catholic Church.”

Bishop Patrick Cooney, Bishop Emeritus of Gaylord and Catholic co-chair, agreed. “At the beginning, we did not know each other and so were more protective. As relationships grew, the need to be defensive evaporated. Namely, I begin to respect you as a serious scholar and a person, I begin to listen with renewed intensity.

“Following that, respect also develops, which helps facilitate the conversation,” he continued. “We all hoped for some tangible result to our deliberations. It’s important, because it moves what we do here out of our academic lives and out of the dialogue room into the pews and into the life of the Church. I think that’s a tremendous outcome of this dialogue.”

Catholic dialogue participants present included Bishop Patrick Cooney; Ralph Del Colle,; Fr. Dennis McManus; Sister Joyce A. Zimmerman; Franciscan Fr. Dennis E. Tamburello; Capuchin Fr. Thomas Weinandy; and Father Leo Walsh.

Reformed Church in America participants present included the Rev. Doug Fromm, the Rev. Renee House and the Rev. John Paarlberg. Christian Reformed Church participants included the  Rev. Lyle Bierma, the Rev. Ron Feenstra and Sue Rozeboom.

PC(USA) participants were Winbush, Mouw and the Rev. Martha Moore-Keish.

United Church of Christ participants included the Rev. Sidney D. Fowler and the Rev. John Riggs.

The Rev. Scott Ickert attended as an observer from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

Past members who contributed to the seventh round were Msgr. Alan Detscher, Gene Fisher, Brother Jeff Gros, Bishop Arthur Kennedy, Margaret O’Gara, Bill Stevenson, the Rev. Canon Francis Tiso, the Rev. Lydia Veliko and Christian Washburn.

Dialogue members also remembered the late Rev. David Engelhard of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (died December, 2005) and the late George Vandervelde, Reformed observer from Canada (died January, 2007).

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